“Renters of Vancouver” takes an intimate look at how the city's millennials are dealing with the housing crisis.
“My partner and I have baby twins. At first, all four of us shared our small one-bedroom apartment in the West End to save a little money. As the babies got a bit bigger, we knew we had to move on. Eventually we discovered a post-World War II era home in East Vancouver that was a decent size, the rent was affordable, and—most importantly—it had two bedrooms. We took it.
We had a two-week crossover between homes. While we were waiting to move in, we offered to paint the walls of the new place. The landlord agreed. One bedroom was neon yellow, the other was brown, and the living room was a dirty beige and showed evidence of a previously-repaired leak in the roof. When we took possession of the keys for the first time—which we found hidden under a bucket in the front yard—we wandered through the filthy rooms and realized the place was not fit for habitation.
The previous tenants had ripped out the carpets to expose the hardwood floors, but they’d also taken out the baseboard, leaving an ugly gap between the walls and floors. The bathroom fixtures and walls were edged with black mould. The shower was clogged and sprayed like a garden hose, and the bathroom tap had a hole rusted on one side that allowed water to run out onto the floor. We didn’t see a fire alarm anywhere. The kitchen’s range hood filters were encrusted with a decade of grease that dripped down the wall, and the hood itself wasn’t vented anywhere. There was a bright circle on the kitchen wall that was rimmed with grime where the previous tenants had hung a clock. Additionally, the landlords had hastily built and rented a suite in the basement, leaving a pile of construction garbage to fester in the backyard.
My mother and I set to work cleaning the kitchen, pulling sticky butcher paper out of the cupboards, washing spilled jam and vegetable detritus out of the fridge, and wiping down the walls. It still looked dirty when we were done, so we cleaned it all again. Finally, just when I was opening a high cupboard to put in one last piece shelf paper, I discovered a cockroach. He hung around long enough for me to take his picture.
My partner has a physically demanding job, but after he finished work he would head over to our new place to paint late into the night. Meanwhile, I would get the twins to bed on my own, and attempt to pack and clean our old home. My father is a high-end floor installer, and he put baseboard in throughout the house, and laid carpet in the two bedrooms. We took down the ancient, dirty curtains that crumbled in our hands, and my mother-in-law sewed brightly-coloured new ones for the babies’ bedroom. We then moved in.
During the first rainstorm of the season, a slow drip fell from the ceiling to the kitchen counter. That night, we talked about cutting our losses and leaving. We’d been politely asking the landlords to fix the problems with the bathroom and kitchen for a month. I had to drive the babies to my parents’ house every other day to bathe them. The garbage was still in the back garden. I even bought a used range hood on Craigslist for the landlords to install. Then, a few days later, with zero notice, a crane truck showed up and deposited a load of roofing tiles above us. The hammering and stomping woke the babies.
After they were done, I finally felt like I could maybe live in this place and feel safe. Our issues with the bathroom and kitchen were resolved not long after that, but we are still fixing cosmetic errors made with these repairs ourselves. Yesterday, the kitchen tap sprung a leak, and the '70s-era fridge lets out death rattles with increasing frequency.
I’m aware of my privilege as someone with a little extra money to buy paint, and having a family that’s DIY-literate and hard-working. I’ve done what I’ve had to do to remain in Vancouver, with two infants, a little longer. I feel lucky to have a place to live. But my situation has me worried that Vancouver’s newly-approved Empty Homes Tax will put many other renters into residences that are not livable, with inexperienced landlords who are reluctant to fix problems in buildings bought only as short-term investments or teardowns.
The other day, I went for a walk in our new neighbourhood with a friend who pointed out how close the elementary school was. I explained that we wouldn’t be living here long enough for the children to go there. I’ve just been told that the house will be demolished within a couple of years.”